By Domenic Poli
BELLOWS FALLS -- Poachers slaughter an average of 69 elephants for their precious ivory tusks each day in Africa. Over the past 10 years, 1,000 park rangers across the continent have been killed trying to protect both those animals and rhinos. And the black market ivory trade has recently been at its worst since the 1980s.
These are some of the statistics Amie Walter hopes to bring to the forefront with a couple of events scheduled for April 24 in Bellows Falls. She has planned a safari-style social that will be followed by a screening of "Out of Africa," with proceeds benefiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. The social will begin at the Windham Antique Center at 5:30 p.m. before the movie starts at the Bellows Falls Opera House at 7 p.m.
Windham Antique Center owner Michael Bruno said the social will be safari-style because guests will enjoy food and drinks under large tents set up in his shop's gallery section before herding over to opera house. The price for both events is $30; or $7 at the door for just the movie. There also will be a silent auction of elephant art and African crafts, as well as a raffle, at the opera house.
Walter told the Reformer she lived in Kenya from 1996 to 2000 with her husband, a Kenyan-born English citizen whose maternal grandparents moved to the country when it was still a British colony. She often saw wild elephants in their natural habitat during her frequent safaris and became alarmed when she learned about the spike in illegal poaching going on throughout Africa.
"It hasn't been this bad since the 1980s, which was a really bad period, too," she said Wednesday. "And these are not the old-fashioned poachers with spears and bows and arrows. These are criminals who need money for their causes, like militias and crime syndicates in other countries. They're using automatic weapons and night vision scopes to track (elephants). They just don't stand a chance against these ruthless people."
The Bellows Falls resident said celebrities around the world have begun to take on the cause in recent years and the national governments of Kenya and Tanzania have tried to squash the black market by increasing fines and penalties for poaching.
Bruno said the Windham Antique Center has never hosted an event like this before, but he decided to throw his support behind it because he feels it is an important cause.
"We wanted to do whatever we could to help (Walter) out with the event itself," he said. "I think it will be a great turnout."
Bruno also said he had opted to stop selling any antique ivory jewelry (even though it is legal to do so) in order to avoid promoting the illegal trade.
Seats at the opera house will be reserved for those with a ticket to both events. To reserve tickets, contact Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-460-1046. Tickets for the movie alone can be purchased at the door. Isac Dinesen is expected to conduct a reading of the book "Out of Africa" as a lead-in to the movie, which stars Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. The silent auction and raffle items can be seen at the Facebook page Honor the Elephants, which Walter set up.